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60 Minutes Whips Up “Havana Syndrome” Hysteria, Airs Sensational Segment on White House “Attacks”

“I will leave it to you as to whether the truth can exist with details omitted.” — Robin Hobb

On February 20, 2022, one of the most storied names in broadcast journalism — the CBS news magazine 60 Minutes, aired a segment on “Havana Syndrome” — a cluster of mysterious health complaints among U.S. and Canadian diplomats and their families in Cuba that have been attributed to a microwave weapon. First reported in Havana in late 2016, over 1,000 cases have since been recorded around the world. The episode was rife with dramatic claims including the suggestion that a nefarious foreign power is behind the “attacks” and may have breached White House security with the capacity to zap the President and his cabinet with an incapacitating energy beam. At least 20 children of diplomats were said to be possible victims, some on American soil.1

“Attacked” Near the White House

Former homeland security advisor Olivia Troye told 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley that during the summer of 2019 she was descending a stairwell near the White House when she suddenly felt a piercing sensation on the right side of her head, vertigo, and nausea. She said it was as if “she had been physically struck” by an outside force that rendered her disoriented and struggling to stand. She compared it to a panic attack and wondered if she was having a stroke. She even worried it might be a brain tumor. About a year later she experienced another episode while walking to her car at the White House when she was overcome with dizziness and vertigo. “I felt like I couldn’t really walk. …I had a depth perception issue where I couldn’t figure out where the ground was. And I would start walking. And I felt like I was just gonna fall right into the ground.” Later she experienced a third episode. She never sought treatment or reported it to authorities at the time.

That alone should set off skeptical alarm bells. Just imagine — you are a national security advisor to the Vice President of the United States. One day you are walking near the White House and you believe you may have been hit with a mysterious energy beam that leaves you incapacitated and barely able to walk, and your response is to do nothing — you neither seek medical attention nor report it to your superiors. This reaction raises the possibility that the symptoms may have been unconsciously embellished over time. Her symptoms are neither unique nor extraordinary. There are a host of common conditions that could account for her symptoms which affect the vestibular system of the inner ear, which is responsible for hearing, balance and spatial awareness including depth perception. It is estimated that 35 percent of all adults over 40 will experience vestibular dysfunction, and Troye’s symptoms are among those most commonly reported.2 As medical students are taught: if you hear hoof steps, think horse, not zebra. There are many well-known medical conditions far more common than secret sonic weapons, which as far as we know do not exist.

Children Stricken in Their Beds

60 Minutes reported that over 20 children of diplomats abroad have experienced “unexplained neurological ailments” that were attributed to Havana Syndrome.3 In one case, a mother was supposedly attacked while breastfeeding and both mother and baby were subsequently diagnosed with “traumatic brain injury.” It’s all very nebulous as no details of their injuries were given or how they knew it was an attack. Another victim was Robyn Garfield who claimed that while stationed in China in 2018, he and his wife and two children were “attacked” in their home over several months. After being evacuated stateside where they were receiving treatment for their “injuries” at the University of Pennsylvania, he said his family was again targeted at a nearby hotel. “I saw an extremely eerie scene where both were thrashing in their beds asleep…kicking and moving pretty aggressively,” he said. Could this have been a sonic or microwave weapon at work? A more mundane explanation is sleep or night terrors, which affect up to half of all children and are triggered by an array of factors including stress.4 When he leaned down to lift his children from their beds, he was mystified by a noise that resembled “rushing water.” While the implication was it may have been a secret weapon, the Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia reports that tinnitus is often perceived as “water running.”5 One audiologist even wrote an article about it titled “Is the Water Running or is it Tinnitus?”6

Again, what’s more likely: tinnitus or a secret sonic weapon of unknown origin or existence?

A Canadian diplomat stationed in Havana in 2017 told 60 Minutes that on three separate occasions, her daughter woke up with heavy nose bleeds and later developed migraines, tinnitus, and “spotting in her vision” (eye floaters). Her son complained of hearing problems and dizziness. These are common symptoms experienced by millions of people every day. In this case, after the Canadian diplomats had been alerted to the threat of a mysterious weapon by their American counterparts, they were primed to redefine an array of common ailments under a new label — Havana Syndrome. This case highlights the broad range of symptoms that are said to make up the condition: headache, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, depression, nose bleeds, disorientation, confusion, forgetfulness, insomnia, tinnitus, difficulty balancing, trouble concentrating, ear pain, head pressure, hearing loss, concussion-like symptoms, and brain damage. The latter three complaints have never been demonstrated in published patient studies of the U.S. diplomats in Cuba, and when you remove them from the list, what is left are the classic symptoms of mass psychogenic illness.

Omissions of Inconvenient Truths

The 60 Minutes segment was devoid of alternative explanations from skeptics, and made numerous references to brain injuries, including to the more than two dozen U.S. diplomats in Cuba who were affected. Physicist James Benford was touted as an expert on microwaves, who said there were portable microwave transmitters that were capable of damaging brain tissue. Yet there is no evidence that microwaves can injure the brain without affecting external tissues, and the damage should show up on MRI scans.

As well, the CBS program failed to mention that the authors of the very first study of Havana patients published in 20187 found no brain damage. While there were white matter tract changes in 3 of 21 patients, these are common in many conditions, including migraines and depression. The findings are what one would expect in a group of 21 randomly selected people. They also botched their assessment for impairment, defining it as any test score under the 40th percentile of normal responses. In other words, 4 out of 10 people tested would have qualified as being impaired.8 The study was so flawed that the editorial board of the respected journal Cortex called for it to be retracted.9

A 2019 study in the same journal found brain anomalies, which is not unusual in small cohorts, and is not the equivalent of brain damage. The study authors even admitted that the changes could have been caused by individual variation between patients. Of even greater concern was the absence of a suitable control group, as 12 of the affected diplomats in Cuba had histories of concussion compared to zero in the healthy controls, and could thus account for the differences between the groups.10 The bottom line: both studies were poorly designed and neither demonstrated brain damage despite continued widespread claims in the media to the contrary.

The Outlier

Dr. David Relman, who headed a National Academy of Sciences committee on “Havana Syndrome,” told 60 Minutes’ Scott Pelley that his panel found “clear evidence of an injury to the auditory and vestibular system.” The panel looked mainly at the U.S. diplomats in Cuba. But Neurologist Robert Baloh examined the same patient studies and is unconvinced. Baloh wrote the standard textbook on the vestibular system and created some of the tests used to study the U.S. diplomats in Cuba. “The hearing tests were normal and the vestibular test results are non-specific and impossible to interpret without appropriate controls,” he said. “As an expert in the audio-vestibular system, I see no convincing evidence of damage to that system based on any of the data that has been published.”11

Relman’s panel looked at a small subset of cases where there was an abrupt onset of pressure or vibration in the head that was sometimes accompanied by the sudden onset of sound. They latched onto the point that several patients told them the sound or feeling of pressure “came from one direction and focused in one location.” For instance, Miles Taylor said the sound was “continuous” and “only changed based on my location.” Both Baloh and Cuban neurologist Mitchell Valdez-Sosa point out that these reports are not unusual as it is the nature of sound to be perceived as coming from one direction. Valdez-Sosa observes that in the cases of anomalous health incidents that the Cubans were allowed to study, the sources of the unusual sounds turned out to have prosaic sources such as water pumps, the humming from streetlights, etc. “Angst about these ‘directional sounds’ had linked them in the patient’s minds to symptoms. The ‘special cases’ who felt ill in Havana all knew each other and shared their fears and theories” resulting in real symptoms from ordinary medical conditions and psychogenic induction, he said.12 An analysis of eight recordings of Cuban “attacks” conducted by auditory scientists concluded they were the mating calls of crickets.13 As for the likelihood that the audio recordings of the sounds heard were associated with microwaves, it is not possible to make audio recordings of microwaves.

The CIA Reports

On January 20, 2022, the contents of an ongoing CIA investigation into “Havana Syndrome” was made public; it held that there was no evidence that a foreign power was involved in a campaign to target U.S. personnel. After reviewing over 1,000 cases of “anomalous health incidents,” it found that most could be explained by an array of factors ranging from anxiety to pre-existing health conditions. In a small number of cases there was not enough information with which to make an assessment, and these cases were classified as unexplained and are still under investigation.14 This is reminiscent of past studies of UFOs by the U.S. Government where a small number of cases have been flagged as “unexplained” due to a lack of information. Unexplained does not mean extraterrestrial. Conversely, the presence of unfamiliar sounds should not be assumed to be confirmation of a secret energy weapon.

About two weeks after the interim CIA findings were released, a small outside advisory panel to the CIA concluded that the most likely explanation for the small number of unexplained cases was “pulsed electromagnetic energy.” While an official familiar with the report said the involvement of a foreign actor was “more than theory — we were able to obtain some level of evidence,” they were forced to admit that “significant information gaps” existed.15 These findings mirrored those of the National Academy of Sciences report of December 2020. Curiously, the head of the advisory panel was the same person who oversaw the Academy’s committee — David Relman.16 In statistics, an outlier is a data point that varies significantly from other observations. Conspicuously, Relman’s two panels are the only investigations to reach the conclusions they have about the likely involvement of microwave radiation, brain injury and the presence of a foreign actor.

The ECREE Principle: Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Proof

Relman’s advisory panel claimed there were four features reported by a small number of victims indicating something remarkable occurred. 1) the sudden onset of sound or pressure; 2) “nearly simultaneous” symptoms such as vertigo, loss of balance and ear pain; 3) “a strong sense of locality or directionality” to those symptoms; and 4) the absence of any known environmental or medical conditions that could have caused them. The panel noted that the combination of all four “is distinctly unusual and unreported elsewhere in the medical literature, and so far have not been associated with a specific neurological abnormality.” Yet these cases may have a social patterning. It is important to remember that the victims in Cuba, and later globally, were primed to think that they may be the targets of an attack and to be vigilant for the signs of an energy weapon that was believed to prompt health complaints — a weapon that supposedly involved an unfamiliar sound.

In our book on Havana Syndrome, Professor Baloh and I reviewed the literature on “The Hum,” a mysterious sound that has been heard all over the world. Many people report experiencing an array of health complaints after hearing it. The sound is widely accepted to have a variety of natural causes, ranging from industrial machinery to tinnitus. Dr. Baloh recently re-examined the cases and found remarkable similarities with the descriptions in Relman’s advisory panel. “People would suddenly develop and even awake with strange sensations of pressure and vibration along with the noise which had many different descriptions. Many described the sensations as so severe they could not stand it. They experienced the same symptoms reported by the Havana syndrome patients and they noted that if they left the room the symptoms improved or resolved only to recur on reentering the room. Often others in the same room did not hear the sounds or develop symptoms.”17

David Relman is a microbiologist; he is not an expert on microwave weapons, auditory neurology or mass psychogenic illness — which may explain why his panels have reached different conclusions to the main CIA working group, the FBI, and a group of elite scientists known as the Jason group. While Relman’s advisory panel claims to have identified a perplexing pattern in a small number of special cases, the main CIA investigation looked at the same information and drew the opposite conclusion — that the symptoms reported were not caused by pulsed microwave radiation or a hostile foreign actor. The FBI reached a similar conclusion and implicated mass psychogenic illness — something that Relman’s panel said “cannot account for the core characteristics.”18 A 2021 report by the Jason scientists found no evidence for “a novel medical syndrome” and “no strong evidence” of traumatic brain injury — directly contradicting the findings of Relman’s advisory panel.19 Relman also claims there was clear evidence of damage to the auditory and vestibular systems when specialists who have devoted their careers to studying these systems, are adamant that no evidence of damage has been demonstrated.

The Bigger Picture

“Havana Syndrome” is the latest in a long list of health scares involving the fear of new technology. Recent examples include mobile phones, powerlines, windfarms, WiFi, and 5G. The present panic involves claims of a secret weapon that uses sound or microwaves to zap people anywhere in the world. Given the sensational nature of the 60 Minutes episode with suggestions of White House attacks, and ongoing political tensions with Russia — the suspected culprit, it would not be surprising to see a cluster of cases in the vicinity of the White House — or other government institutions as officials working there have been primed to be vigilant for anomalous health incidents.

For the past five years, the investigation of Havana Syndrome has been mired in politics. The time has come to listen to the voices of the intelligence community and put the episode to rest. After all this time, a weapon has yet to be identified. There is no smoking gun. There never was one. There is only smoke and mirrors generated by bad science and poor journalism. END

About the Author

Robert Bartholomew is an Honorary Senior Lecturer in the Department of Psychological Medicine at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. He has written numerous books on the margins of science covering UFOs, haunted houses, Bigfoot, lake monsters—all from a perspective of mainstream science. He has lived with the Malay people in Malaysia, and Aborigines in Central Australia. He is the co-author of 2 seminal books: Outbreak! The Encyclopedia of Extraordinary Social Behavior with Hilary Evans (Anomalist Books, 2009), and Havana Syndrome with Robert W. Baloh (Copernicus Books, 2020).

References
  1. Pelley, Scott. 2022. “Havana Syndrome: High-level national security officials stricken with unexplained illness on White House grounds.” February 20, accessed at: https://cbsn.ws/3MfZaLR
  2. “Dizziness and Balance Problems Related to Vision.” Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation Association: https://bit.ly/3IEsRnQ
  3. Farmer, Brit, Rey, Michael, and Zill De Granados, Oriana. 2022. “The Youngest Victims of ‘Havana Syndrome.’” 60 Minutes Overtime, February 20: https://cbsn.ws/3IF3X7q
  4. Moreno, Megan. 2015. “Sleep Terrors and Sleepwalking: Common Parasomnias of Childhood.” JAMA Pediatrics 69(7):704. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2014.2140
  5. ”Tinnitus.” National Library of Medicine, Medline Plus: https://bit.ly/3Ck3sgV
  6. Valkenburg, Daria. 2019. “Is the Water Running or is it Tinnitus?” The Aural Report, accessed at: https://bit.ly/3IFYi0T
  7. Swanson, R. L., Hampton, S., Green-McKenzie, J., Diaz-Arrastia, R., Grady, M. S., Verma, R., Biester, R., Duda, D., Wolf, R. L. & Smith, D. H. 2018. “Neurological manifestations among US government personnel reporting directional audible and sensory phenomena in Havana, Cuba,” February 15. JAMA. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.1742
  8. Della Sala, Sergio, Cubelli, Robert. 2018. Alleged ‘sonic attack’ supported by poor neuropsychology. Cortex 2018;103:387–8. https://bit.ly/35ilMLg
  9. Cortex Editorial Board. 2018. Responsibility of neuropsychologists: the case of the ‘sonic attack’. Cortex 108:A1–2. https://bit.ly/344Nydm
  10. Ragini V, Swanson, RL, Parker D, Ismail A, Shinohara RT, Alappatt JA, et al. 2019. “Neuroimaging findings in US government personnel with possible exposure to directional phenomena in Havana, Cuba.” JAMA 322(4):336–47. July 23. https://bit.ly/3vwuVKT
  11. Baloh, Robert. 2022. Personal communication, February 23.
  12. Valdez-Sosa, Mitchell. 2022. Personal communication, February 28.
  13. “Acoustic Signals and Physiological Effects on U.S. Diplomats in Cuba,” November 2018. Declassified U.S. Government study conducted for the State Department.
  14. Harris, Shane, and Ryan, Missy. 2022. “CIA finds no ‘Worldwide Campaign’ by any foreign power behind mysterious ‘Havana Syndrome.’” Washington Post, January 20.
  15. Dilanian, Ken, and Lederman, Josh. 2022. “’Havana Syndrome in small group most likely caused by directed energy, says U.S. intel panel.” NBC News, February 3: https://nbcnews.to/3vx0bZV
  16. Harris, Shane. 2022. “External energy source may explain ‘Havana syndrome,’ panel finds, renewing questions about possible foreign attack.” Washington Post, February 2.
  17. Baloh, Robert. 2022. Personal communication, February 23.
  18. Harris, Shane. 2022. “Panel says radio energy may explain ‘Havana Syndrome.’” Washington Post, February 3.
  19. “An Analysis of Data and Hypotheses Related to the EmbassyIncidents,” November 7, 2021. Study conducted on behalf of the U.S. State Department (JASON study group).

This article was published on March 4, 2022.

 

24 responses to “60 Minutes Whips Up “Havana Syndrome” Hysteria, Airs Sensational Segment on White House “Attacks””

  1. In reply to Tony Gordon –

    You have asked for my view on the possible role of Meniere Spectrum Disorder in ‘Havana Syndrome.’

    In some instances, but not most. ‘Havana Syndrome’ has become a catch-all category used to lump an array of conditions and experiences into a singular convenient rubric. Many cases involve people redefining an array of disparate medical events under a new label. Some of the descriptions closely reflect migraines, panic attacks, transient tinnitus, and other conditions including mass psychogenic illness. It is important to remember that brain damage, white matter tract changes and hearing loss were never demonstrated in the Cuban studies. The 2 JAMA studies (2018, 2019) contained serious methodological flaws and did not demonstrate brain damage.

    In Cuba the ‘nocebo effect’ has played a major role, although the index case was simply experiencing an ear ache and headache. Once the folk belief began circulating by embassy management that their staff may be the targets of an acoustical attack, it raised anxiety levels and hyper-vigilance. What happened in Cuba and later spread around the world, has followed social networks – a telltale sign of mass psychogenic illness.

    What is more likely – that diplomats are being zapped by a secret weapon the existence of which has never been demonstrated and would defy the laws of physics (based on account descriptions), or that these people are experiencing symptoms that humans have experienced since we were living in caves?

    ‘Havana Syndrome’ (which does not even meet the definition of a syndrome) is a complex event that can only be understood by working backward from the historical Cold War backdrop to patient zero and deconstructing the spread among social networks. When you do this and follow the facts, the psychological nature of the outbreak is evident.

    • tony gordon says:

      I do not dispute that there is social contagion. However, people and the media have latched onto preexisting or new-onset symptoms of a common, definite, but misunderstood syndrome.
      Before anyone asserts a psychological cause for anything with its attendant victimization, a simpler infratentorial physiological cause needs to be ruled out. Remember, autism was once thought to be due to refrigerator mothers, and ulcers were “obviously” due to stress. Occam would also have something to say on the matter, though not a lot.
      I would also be interested for Baloh to say why my hypothesis is wrong.

  2. The excellent observation about the similarity between the controversy about brain damage in the diplomats and the discussion about brain changes in long COVID is something I will look into. Thank you for raising this Michael.

    • tony gordon says:

      I suggest you start with the 1890s article (Lancet?) by Sir William Gowers (“the greatest clinical neurologist of all time”) reporting a non-neurological syndrome after “Russian Flu” (probably in fact a coronavirus). It was an accurate delineation of Meniere Spectrum Disorder (aka Havana syndrome). Sorry I am very busy at present and do not have the exact reference to his article to hand.

      I am still interested to find out your views on MSD as the simple explanation for Havana syndrome.

  3. Michael Finfer, MD says:

    I am struck by the similarity between the controversy about the academic papers about brain damage in the diplomats and the discussion about the current Nature paper about brain changes in long COVID.

    I was wondering if you noticed that, and I would like to hear your thoughts if you have any.

  4. Maniac says:

    I’m a lifelong tinnitus sufferer. Every once in a while I’ll lose equilibrium and will have to re-balance myself, and I’ll lose some hearing in one ear and have it replaced by a faint ringing. Each episode lasts a few seconds. I highly doubt that Vlad the Impaler had anything to do with it.

    • tony gordon says:

      I don’t see how this could be anything other than a temporary blip in the auditory and vestibular parts of the inner ear. I am sure Occam would agree that no end of negative ENT tests or examinations can negate this conclusion.

  5. tony gordon says:

    I trust that those who think my previous explanation is clotted nonsense will explain why.

    There is a close analogy between Meniere Spectrum Disorder (MSD) and motion sickness (MS, which may be part of MSD, a link I am still considering). MS is triggered by a sensory and spatial discrepancy between vision and vestibular information from the inner ear. If someone distressed by MS consulted an otologist, it is unlikely any pertinent objective damage to the auditory or vestibular system would be demonstrated. In other words, normal (or supernormal) function would be expected. If in fact the vestibular organs are seriously defective, the person would then be immune from MS. Many years ago William James found that the congenitally deaf with vestibular as well as cochlear damage were immune from seasickness. Likewise, there is no reason to predict hypofunction in MSD (though there would be in Meniere’s Disease as it presents to an otologist).

  6. tony gordon says:

    I agree that we should not be looking for unicorns, zebras or even horses, rather snails (=cochleae). The syndrome is an otological, not a neurological, psychiatric or psychological one. Whilst social contagion and politics is clearly involved, it is not necessary to postulate a psychogenic origin, especially as this is so stigmatizing.

    The whole syndrome is quite explicable by the very common but misdiagnosed and unrecognized condition I have labeled Meniere Spectrum Disorder. The key to unlocking MSD is to realize that its pathological basis, endolymphatic hydrops, is secondary to a low perilymph pressure from whatever cause (dehydration, perilymph fistula, intracranial hypotension, low blood pressure, hyperventilation, etc.).

    The other feature of MSD that is so confusing is that it is, at least in its early reversible stage, a hyperfunctional not hypofunctional condition, a physiological not pathological condition. It is a functional disorder, albeit of ear , not brain or mind.
    Anne Llewellyn below illustrates this perfectly. Her sudden attacks were clearly Menieriform, yet this was denied presumably on the basis of no long-term objective damage. The vague suggestion of (permanent) hair cell damage was hardly plausible, whilst intermittent periods of low perilymph pressure was a simple and likely explanation.

  7. Outbreaks of mass psychogenic illness in communities are well-known and follow social networks – which is what happened in Cuba.

    There are 2 main types of mass psychogenic illness – short and long-term. The former occurs predominantly in Western countries and is triggered the perception of an unfamiliar odor that is perceived to be harmful – there is no pre-existing group tension. Outbreaks last less than a day and patients quickly recover.

    The second type occurs in response to prolonged stress (e.g., Salem in 1692) and is typified by neurological symptoms – which is what you had in the patient cohort in Cuba. The 2019 JAMA study found minor brain anomalies consistent with exposure to long-term stress; it unequivocally did not find brain damage contrary to media reports.

    There are many different examples of mass psychogenic illness spreading beyond small social units to communities, regions and countries.
    Communities – the ‘Mad Gasser’ of Mattoon Illinois in 1944 (see – Johnson DM. The ‘phantom anesthetist’ of Mattoon: a field study of mass hysteria. J Abnorm Psychol. 1945;40:175–86).

    Multiple Countries (Belgium & France) – the Tainted Coca-Cola scare in Europe in 1999 (Nemery B, Fischler B, Boogaerts M, Lison D, Willems J. The coca-cola incident in Belgium, June 1999. Food Chem Toxicol. 2002;40:1657–67).

    Episodes persisting for years:
    Historical Example – the outbreaks of demonic possession in medieval European nunneries (the best known of these works is: Huxley A. The devils of Loudun. New York: Harper and Brothers; 1952).
    Contemporary example – the hiccupping schoolgirls of Danvers, Massachusetts (Bartholomew, Robert E. (2016). “Public Health, Politics and the Stigma of Mass Hysteria: Lessons from an Outbreak of Unusual Illness.” Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 109(5):175-179).

    Once the State Department and DoD alerted their personnel to be on the lookout for anomalous health incidents, suddenly you had 1,000+ cases from around the world. This is a classic self-fulfilling prophecy. It is also worth noting that many of these people are not experiencing psychogenic illness but are simply redefining a long, vague list of health complaints under a new label – Havana Syndrome.

  8. The symptoms of mass psychogenic illness are very real and the victims are suffering – and I sympathize with them. I have never referred to them as crazy or unstable or mentally ill – and never would. MPI is based on a belief. We all have beliefs, hence, no one is immune – and that includes farmer Joe down the road or a top level CIA officer. We are all human beings and therefore potential victims.

  9. Dallas Weaver Ph.D. says:

    I understand that there are now benefits for having the syndrome (money, attention, etc.). This appears to be a nocebo effect issue (opposite of placebo effect and why witch doctors pins in dolls make you sick) driven by the belief in Havana syndrome supported by financial reward, not just a present of a tinfoil hat.

  10. H. Robert Johnston, MD says:

    Right from the start — when I first heard of ‘Havana Syndrome’ — it seemed to me that Mass Hysteria was the cause.
    Nothing since has altered my opinion.
    Vague symptoms — chiefly ‘neurological; their rapid ‘spread’, among a cohort of individuals in a ‘cloak and dagger’ profession, ‘primed’ for belief in enemy subterfuge, conspiracies and webs of secrets and lies; a paucity of physical findings; sinister-sounding “Electro-Magnetic Pulse weapons”; and (perhaps unconscious) thoughts of financial compensation, always in play in America’s over-litigious society … and so on.
    It does ‘victims’ not a jot of good to promote yet another conspiracy theory or allow emotions to be stoked up by the mere mentions of a ‘long-hated’ Cuba and a resurgent Russia … as the ‘perpetrators’, before any aspect of the ‘Syndrome’ has been proved real!
    Dr Bartholomew and “Skeptic” are to be congratulated for bringing a — very welcome — blast of reason and good sense to this quagmire of confusion.

  11. Patrick says:

    The Soviets beamed microwaves at the US embassy from the 1950s through the 1980s. The reason was never revealed, but it was likely an attempt at either jamming US equipment or activating remote listening devices. Noteworthy is the fact that it was 1) detected, 2) measured, 3) determined to have no health effects. These facts alone make it the opposite of what has been asserted for the alleged “Havana Syndrome.”

    Sounds like a great time for our old friend the “which is more likely test.”

    Which is more likely?

    An impoverished country with a low level of indigenous military and technological development created a mysterious new weapon and/or espionage method.

    Then they used it in a completely unfocused, but noticeable way on targets that are seemingly random.

    That the advantage and/or benefit of that weapon/espionage method is completely mysterious.

    That the application of high-powered directed energy is responsible but that it is also inexplicably undetectable using equipment designed to measure radio frequency energy.

    If this activity was proven to be real, it is a provocation that could lead to war that would completely annihilate perpetrating country, and despite this, they are doing it anyway.

    Or…

    That a common weakness of human beings is that fear and suggestion amplifies sensitivity to ordinary stimuli.

    That the effects on affected individuals are completely subjective. That the methods used to investigate the “injuries” are themselves inherently subjective.

    If electromagnetic waves had been detected, we would know the frequency and power level.

    That journalistic and intellectual standards are at their lowest when directed toward Official Enemies like Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, etc…

    That mass suggestion combined with panic are quite common in human experience, like War of the Worlds, McMartin preschool, the Oregon hallucination virus, the 2016 Evil Clown sightings, and now this.

    That either through stupidity or simply taking advantage of an opportunity to further demonize an Official Enemy, officials are amplifying and perpetuating as nefarious something that has a simple explanation.

    That the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine wrote their report to support a pre-determined conclusion regarding an Official Enemy and ignored abundant evidence to the contrary.

    Indeed, which is more likely?

    • Bad Boy Scientist says:

      It was found that bouncing microwaves off of a hidden reflector could be used to bug the room. The reflector vibrated with sounds in the room and by careful measurement of the reflected microwaves, those vibrations could be measured and converted into audio.
      Another way to accomplish the same thing with IR is to bounce an IR laser off of a window and measure the reflected signal.

    • Well stated. The US State Department began their initial investigation after hearing hoofbeats… and they immediately began searching for zebras and later unicorns instead of more mundane explanations – like horses.

  12. Anne Llewellyn says:

    I am a retired molecular biologist. I’ve had similar symptoms to those reported by individuals in the Diplomatic Corps for over 50 years. My “attacks” are sudden and very disorienting. After many years I was able to get a reasonable diagnosis other than “crazy woman” disease. I have tinnitus. It does come on suddenly, and what I hear sounds like something from a sci-fi ray gun. Other than being extremely annoying, to date, no medical doc has an explanation for the condition other than damage to the hair cells in the inner ear. At no time did I imagine I was being targeted by alien or foreign weapons.

  13. Bad Boy Scientist says:

    One angle that should be explored is the Physics of waves and how that constrains acoustic or E-M ‘energy attacks.’ Also, how can we detect such attacks (and shield against them!). Physics undergrads can help you do the math.

    One point that was mentioned is that since the energy must pass through exterior tissue (skin, muscle and bone) on the way to the brain, if it causes any brain damage it should also cause some damage to the outer tissue. Also, since these attacks seem to target entire rooms (e.g. two children in separate beds) then there should be tissue damage all over their bodies. Even if the damage is slight, it should be detectable.

    On top of interacting with exterior tissue, energy passing through walls and windows of a building should interact with them. As waves pass through materials and structures they can reflect, refract, diffract or scatter. So an attack indoors would be weakened because some of the energy would be diverted in unpredictable directions. This means neighboring apartments would also experience an attack, albeit a weakened one.

    For this reason, detecting such attacks should be trivial and defending against them even more trivial. A small, cheap device could detect a wide range of microwaves and sound an alarm if the power jumps much above ambient. Such devices could even be worn – akin to radiation badges of Nuclear workers. I would be surprised if our government did not issue such detectors to staff.

    What about defending against microwave beam attacks?
    Constructing a Faraday cage inside of the apartment can reduce the power of E-M waves to safe levels. Well grounded chicken wire or aluminum foil would do the job and can be hidden under a layer of dry wall or plaster. Again, I would be surprised if our government did not take these precautions already – microwaves have been used to spy on our embassies for decades.

    BTW: Acoustic waves follow similar rules as EM waves so they are easily detected, would cause widespread external damage, and can be shielded against.

    In summary, when we apply Occam’s Razor to these unexplained phenomena, we must include _everything_ we know about all aspects of the phenomena. We know a lot about E-M & acoustic waves and that knowledge must be factored into our considerations.

  14. Philip McEvoy says:

    60 Minutes of nothing

  15. Armando Simon says:

    As a psychologist, I acknowledge the phenomenon of “mass contagion” (among other terms used). However, I lean towards the opposite theory for various reasons: (1) these cases are wide apart, whereas the psychological alternative involves a group of people together (2) mass contagion is usually of short duration, not lasting years (3) similar weapons already exist; in fact, during the heyday of the Somali pirates, sonic weapons were used to ward them off instead of killing them (I favored the latter deterrence).

  16. TAO’Keeffe says:

    I am a U.S. diplomat unaffected by Havana Syndrome. I know no other group of professionals more worldly, psychologically grounded, and less likely to whine than Foreign Service Officers and our Agency colleagues. Dr. Bartholomew is not dealing with UFOs here, which heretofore was his specialty. I raised his perspectives with a distinguished psychologist who worked for decades with FSOs; her clear reply was that this was NOT imaginary. That the phenomena still lacks explanation does not mean it is all in our heads.

    • Jennifer Zacher says:

      I don’t think the author believes Havana syndrome to be imaginary. But the 60 minutes piece was certainly designed to be frightening. I watched it with horror. But then I realized that far more scientific evidence was needed to suggest that the cause was a microwave weapon or any weapon. If the story was evidence driven, it would have taken far more time than 60 minutes has for a story.

    • Steve Levenberg says:

      I don’t perceive the author to be in any way impugning the motives of loyal foreign service officers (My own Dad was one). Rather, a case of Occam’s Razor is at hand. The data don’t lead to an attack by a foreign power, but rather are more likely a form of psychogenic-based behavior in very normal people who have been understandably geared to be on the alert for such manifestations. To defend the employees misses the point!

    • Patrick says:

      Yes, they are professionals, but they are still humans and have human weaknesses. Dr. Bartholomew’s specialty is not “UFOs”, it is psychological medicine.

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